Of course, Batman has often been menacing and insane. Bob Kane and Bill Finger created him as a weird predator prowling the night. Frank Miller re-envisioned the character so his brushes with crime became more brutal. More recent writers have shown how his single-minded quest for control can destroy his closest relationships. What made Morrison's work on the character so striking, then, was its unabashed optimism. For Morrison, Batman was all the crazy adventures he'd ever had, including that time he thought he went to Mars. As the optimal human being, Batman had the power to make the future whatever he wanted. Even when misplaced in time, his successors took up his mantle, with former Robin Dick Grayson becoming a lighter, more mentoring Batman to Bruce's angry biological son Damian. For most of Morrison's run, Batman was a figure of hope. But now, at the end of one saga, and the start of many to come, Batman has lost his son, his torturous love interest, and any reason for his global "Batman, Incorporated" programming to continue. But he'll use those disappointments to put purpose behind his fists; he'll protect Gotham, because deep down, he is not capable of doing anything else. "And isn't that tragic?" Morrison seems to be asking.
What I find tragic/admirable in this issue is who actually makes sacrifices, instead of Batman. It's the women in his life. They are willing to risk change rather than endure. Talia al Ghul set the horrifying child soldier Leviathan organization spinning simply to break Bruce's spirit and end his perpetual fight for justice; she's genius-nuts, but loses her beloved because Batman can't stop (which is good thing, but if her plan had worked, a lot less havoc would've been wrought). And she's shot in the head by Kathy Kane, the former Batwoman who mysteriously joined Spyral as a secret agent, who has become a killer in the name of solving the world's problems in a way Bruce refuses to attempt. Talia gave her life to change Batman; Kathy stopped playing dress-up in order to make a difference. They progressed towards something new. Bruce tried to globalize his nighttime activities, failed, and makes some noise about putting his Bat-mantle away forever. However, the robbing of Damian and Talia's graves sends him back to the cape and cowl, teeth gnashing, fists ready to wrap around the readers' throat -- essentially, he winds up in the same old story. He'd rather channel his grief into what he knows, than break the cycle, and everyone around him suffers for it. Of course, we'll get cool future Batman stories out of the bargain, but Morrison at least makes sure we know the price of such entertainment before he exits the stage.
Perhaps more to the point, I wonder if female comics characters just plain make more (personal) compromises than their male counterparts in modern times? My favorite superhero ladies have all done unpredictable things in the name of protecting others. Carol mind-wiped herself. Wonder Woman blinded herself, and has killed numerous times. The current Batwoman may have let her twin sister die in the name of public safety. These things torture the characters, define them, and lead them down unforeseen story avenues. We see growth from tragic circumstances, sagas outside of motivating origin stories, new beats instead of reaffirming ones. So why don't we see more mainstream men compromising themselves on a book by book basis (I mean, outside of Superman apparently -- not really -- killing someone)? Is it too financially risky to have a hero betray a code, or become an anti-hero for complex reasons? On the flip side, is self-sacrifice coded as weak or a hot-headed mistake in our mostly male-driven superhero narratives?
I don't have a real answer. Our emotionally-stunted, stubborn Batman just made me want to ask the question. Frankly, I'm sure there are numerous examples of men majorly jumping in front of cosmic bullets for others in superhero lore, though I can't think how current they are (there is Ultimate Spider-man, of course, but Peter Parker's alternate universe may be gone soon). My personal favorite example will always be Wally West, who gave his life to speed heaven so many times, it was never all that shocking he was rewarded with more life. Of course, he's gone now, so what type of heroism has taken his -- and Wondie's and Carol's and Batwoman's -- place in male books circa 2013? In Batman, it appears to be endurance.
POST-SCRIPT: I have been remiss in not citing both the artists and the writers that I've showcased on this blog. Retroactively, I will be combing through all my previous blog entries to let you know the names and issues tied up in each photo I post. I may also decide to pull those photos out of the posts completely. I am not sure yet, but for now, watch for citations to appear at the end of every blog post with pictures, starting with this one ...
Batman Incorporated #13: Grant Morrison, Writer; Chris Burnham, Art; Nathan Fairbairn, Colorist; Steve Wands & Travis Lanham, Letterers.
Captain Marvel #14: Kelly Sue DeConnick, Writer; Scott Hepburn with Gerardo Sandoval, Art; Andy Troy, Colorist; Joe Caramagna, Letterer.